printed 06/04/2021

Jennifer Ranck, Worcester County’s library director, stood her ground Tuesday as she was peppered with loaded questions by the county commissioners’ book police.

At issue was the library’s acceptance of a tiny grant from a small company, Zoobean, which late last year awarded the system a Beanstack Black Voices Microgrant of $1,000 as part of an effort to further the cause of social justice.

This debate of the program’s merits and objectives should never have happened, but it did because someone in Ocean Pines was sufficiently alarmed by the “Black Voices” title to look up the company’s website — and then discover that its homepage states support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cue the alarm bells, and, apparently, a call to Commissioner Chip Bertino, who asked Ranck who determines whether a grant is appropriate.

He and Commissioner Ted Elder also wanted to know who ensures the library’s books are suitable for young readers and who protects the library from grants that have partisan strings attached, politics being off limits to the library system.

Bertino’s suggestion that library officials apply a “problematic” subjectivity in making these decisions is ironic, when subjectivity on the opposite end of the spectrum is what led to Tuesday’s grilling in the first place.

Ranck, however, explained that the Beanstalk reading program is simply an effort to give non-White kids something to read that features characters with whom they can identify. That’s it. Are we to assume that the real message to Ranck is that she should scour these books for subversive messages because they feature Black characters ... and well, you know?

Ranck’s defense of the program was backed up by commissioners Diana Purnell, Josh Nordstrom and Joe Mitrecic, but it might have been Mitrecic who ended the debate over partisan use of the library by pointing out that the library hosts political gatherings and sessions all the time. That would include, he added, Bertino’s monthly meetings in the library in Ocean Pines.

We agree with Mitrecic that anything that gets young people off their phones, reading and talking with each other is “more important than anything on this table right now.”

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